Matthea Boatright, 14, poses with her entry into the PEEPs art show for the Kenai Peninsula Birding Festival as her mother, Kirsten Boatright, takes her picture on Thursday May 7, 2015 at the Kenai Fine Arts Center in Kenai, Alaska. The birding festival kicks off Thursday. (Clarion file photo)

Matthea Boatright, 14, poses with her entry into the PEEPs art show for the Kenai Peninsula Birding Festival as her mother, Kirsten Boatright, takes her picture on Thursday May 7, 2015 at the Kenai Fine Arts Center in Kenai, Alaska. The birding festival kicks off Thursday. (Clarion file photo)

Veteran, novice birders flock to festival

Kenai Birding Festival organizers are ready for birders and kids of all abilities to flock to the festivities this year.

Keen Eye Bird Club President Ken Tarbox said the event is meant to cater both to experienced birders and families just looking to get started with their kids.

“We go to great lengths to make sure that new birders are welcome, and to help them out,” he said.

The festival takes off Thursday with a Kenai River Float Trip, a walk through the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and live music by Bill Larned, a local musician and biologist. Awards will also be given out for this year’s PEEP’s art show for kids up to 18 years old. There are 72 entries so far this year, Tarbox said.

The rest of the weekend will be filled with plenty of opportunities to see residents’ favorite species, including a 24-hour Midnight Sun Big Sit at the Kenai Wildlife Viewing Platform.

“Usually what we get at our festival is good diversity of birds because it’s a little later,” Tarbox said.

This year’s keynote speaker is Lynn Barber, a longtime birder who now lives in Anchorage. In 2005 Barber did a “big year” — or a year in which a birder tries to record as many birds as possible — in the state of Texas and saw a record 522 bird species. She will speak about birds species in trouble on Friday, and about her adventures birding across the country and Canada on Saturday.

Matt Conner, chief of visitor services for the refuge, will present a program for kids he created last year for the festival called Our Feathered Friends.

The program is very interactive and involves pulling audience members on stage, Conner said. It’s meant to help kids be able to identify wildlife and understand how birds adapt to the environment around them, he said. It even involves a song about animal scat.

“We’re trying to provoke them to learn more on their own terms and explore,” Conner said.

While the kids get a kick out of the show, Conner said parents often approach him interested in either birding or getting their kids out recording wildlife, but aren’t sure where to start. He said knowing how to “wrap your arms around the natural world” can be tough without a degree in biology or a related field, so a lot of his involvement with the birding festival is giving parents tips on how to get their kids involved.

Conner shows people tools for recording birds, including a phone app that suggests species based on an entered description, which he said is free. These tips are one of the way the festival works to cater to those who are just getting started in the birding community, he said.

“An avid birder doesn’t really need a birding festival … so this is really designed for really anybody who’s interested,” Conner said. “Birders love to take people like that and say, ‘Here, let me take you under my wing.’”

While the festival draws upward of about 500 people annually, Tarbox said it is an intimate affair compared to other festivals of its kind.

“Mostly it’s a local festival and most of the people that come to it are local people,” Tarbox said, adding that some enthusiasts are known to come from as far as Colorado and Michigan.

A full schedule of events for this year’s Kenai Birding Festival is available at www.kenaibirdfest.com.

 

Reach Megan Pacer at megan.pacer@peninsulaclarion.com.

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